Get the keys

The traveling bookstore is hitting the road big time. Or at least bigger than it has since this venture began two years.  As St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore starts its third season, the events where it is is setting up are far, wide andgirl in yellow exciting.  Here is a quick list to get started and then more thoughts about all of it:

…and more as summer unfolds.

Besides bringing a wonderful selection of used books and vintage postcards to a location near you, the traveling bookstore is also an opportunity to have conversations and to explore dreams.  That’s how it started after all; a dream to open a bookstore and the reality that it would be tough to make that business financially viable in a town with a population of 1,037.  So with enough conversations and enough brainstorming, here it is – a bookstore that can travel to where people are, a bookstore that has low overhead when parked in a small town, which can then travel to set up at a music festival, in a city or in front of your house (if you want to throw a literary party).  It’s about following one’s dream and finding ways to make it happen.

It would be great to meet up with you along the way. Hope you are at one of these summer events or decide to arrange for the bookstore to come to your town/city.  And, if you don’t mind, please help get the word out about this amazing traveling bookstore.



Someone asked me yesterday why I don’t review more books in this blog.  I mulled it over for a few minutes and realized that for me books are vehicles.  You might find this slightly amusing especially coming from the owner/driver of a traveling bookstore, but that is how I see it.  Writers have ideas or stories, facts, poems, essays or opinions IMG_1220they capture in words on a page and then those pages sometimes turn into books.  The books carry those creations from the author out into the wider world.  This concept goes along beautifully with the reality of a traveling bookstore, which then carries those books to whatever event or parking lot the bookstore happens to stop at to set up.

And the traveling bookstore business is also a vehicle for conversations.  The majority of customers end up talking with me.  They are curious about how this traveling bookstore got started. Some tell me about their own dreams for a business or a new place, taking inspiration from how I am striving to realize mine.  Others begin by talking about a book or author and end up talking about themselves.  I suspect part of this penchant for conversation comes from the interior dimensions of the traveling bookstore.  There aren’t numerous aisles to wander through or cozy back corners with a stuffed chair where one might settle in to read quietly. There is one aisle.  And especially for people who have never experienced it before, there is often a hesitation to go into that. They see the sign that this is a bookstore but they aren’t entirely sure if they should go inside.  Thus there is often a conversation to begin IMG_1026with – yes, this is a bookstore and yes you can go in. If people begin to read a book, especially children, they tend to sit down on the floor in the only aisle or in the doorway.

Perhaps this all might seem a stretch as to why I don’t write book reviews.  If I did, it would be about a particular book that touched me. Not about a book I feel you should read. If I suggest a book to someone, it usually is in response to a conversation we had. So vehicles, yes, that’s what it’s about: the books that are carried on the shelves and the conversations shared wherever the bookstore is parked.  Vehicles of imagination and beauty.  Vehicles that transport us to unimagined places and times.  Vehicles that bring us together.

Be brave

Fear. It doesn’t have to be our default. Yet often that is where I hear people go these days. An older woman who doesn’t leave an abusive relationship tells me she is afraid of being alone. A young family in Helena, MT had plans to move to an east coast city for career opportunities. Now they tell me they will stay in minimum wage jobs in Helena because they are afraid of the possibility of N. Korean bombing a larger US city. In airports and bus stations I am urged to report anyone’s suspicious behavior or if I notice unattended luggage. When I recently mentioned that an artist from Croatia might do a residency in our town, someone asked if it was safe to bring a Croatian to our community.IMG_2430

I take the traveling bookstore wherever people might be interested in reading. Now I feel compelled to put more books on the shelves that turn people away from fear. Do they need to read about courage? Perhaps be persuaded by a tome to take a step towards adventure? Are there printed words that can push someone to try something they want to do, need to do? Are there books that provide  us with the stamina to not let politicians or the media or timidity stand in the way?

So many remarkable stories: Wiesel’s Night, Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, West with the Night, Fahrenheit 451 and Animal Farm; poetry from Walt Whitman to Lucinda Clifton. Words on the page that hopefully move someone from sitting in fear to taking action. It is hard to say which book might work for the woman in the abusive relationship or the man in my town who fears foreigners from countries he knows nothing about. I have to believe that reading just the right words might open their eyes to a life not limited by fear, to help push aside the bars that cage them.

We are nearly there

Yes, there is still snow in the mountains but spring is here. The lilac bushes are slowly starting to get buds.  I heard there are crocus blooming although I haven’t seen any myself, and the season’s first event has been scheduled for April 22: Books, Bread and Beer as its the traveling bookstore, Yvonne’s Simply Sourdough and of course the mighty HA beers all at HA Brewery oIMG_0931n Grave Creek Rd.  Other events are starting to get sorted from a couple great times promised in the Yaak (June 17 and July 15) to an appearance in Tacoma, WA, the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, Eureka Farmers Market and others that are still taking shape.  Once the summer schedule is set I will certainly let you know.

For now it is enough that the snow is gone, people are thinking of gardens and I am taking the bookstore out on the road. The winter has been too long but now I am ready to put in piles of books I accumulated this winter, make a new sign (left the last one in Rock Island, IL at an event last September), and load up the typewriter.  And this season will be very special as I am quitting my day job to put more time into having the bookstore on the road.  A shift but I think sixty-five and a half is the perfect age for this sort of adventure. I can still manage those boxes of books,  drive a long day when needed and enjoy talking to just about anyone who shows up.

It might take a while…

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these Processed with MOLDIVcouriers…” This winter seems as though it might just last forever.  Here it is March 5th and more snow on top of the piles we already have. And this is a  minor problem compared to the political situation.  But I am not giving up.  I shovel the snow around the bookstore, work on inventory that piled up in the colder months, go to rallys,  write letters and make phone calls to those I hope represent me in Washington, and talk with people.  I recently re-read Christopher Morley’s “Parnassus on Wheels”.  It’s about a woman who buys a traveling bookstore, so of course suits me but I think even those without a bookstore would enjoy it. The Professor (in the book) goes into towns, farms and even stops people along the road to tell them about the glory of reading.

I don’t know what the solution is for these current times but reading might help. All kinds of reading from classics to what is on the best seller lists, from nonfiction that explains history, geography and economics to foreign authors who offer views into other cultures. Discussing those books also helps which is why programs (like Humanities Montana) and, dare I say, serious book clubs are beneficial.  Someone (younger than me) said today over lunch, “Reading a newspaper or book makes me think about the issue, while getting information only on social media can cause a knee jerk reaction.”

As spring thaws the roads and I begin to take the bookstore out to events, I look forward to conversations I will surely have with people.  I look forward to sharing ideas, comparing views, listening to differences and maybe suggesting a book or two.  I am not giving up.

and then there is winter

We are definitely experiencing winter in northwest Montana.  img_2909As the traveling bookstore sits encased in snow, it is an opportunity to consider the differences between an individual and a community.  There is the current US president who seems very much focused on himself as an individual. And there are the numerous rallies and protests happening across the US and in other countries that are focused on community.  It gives pause to think about the value of each.

There is something to be said for someone who stands up for what she or he believes, or who sets out on a journey to follow a particular quest.  We can certainly ask though if that individual’s aspirations provide only personal benefit or do they benefit – or impede – others?  One voice shouting out above everyone else could be beneficial considering the particular situation.  Or that voice could be egotism plain and simple. “Listen to me.  I am the one who knows what you should be doing.”

Then there is a community where ideally people work together to help a neighbor who lost a house to a fire, or support a much needed school bond, or pile sandbags against an encroaching river.  Recently there have been thousands and yes, hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in spontaneous communities.  People from across the state came together in Helena, MT to support keeping public lands public.  And there were the incredible marches on January 21 for causes ranging from healthcare to women’s rights to others that need to be heard by our legislators and affirmed.  People from across the country traveled to Washington DC to speak up together.  There were organizers for the marches, individuals who helped get the word out of when and where. But these individuals were part of the community, similar to someone in line piling sandbags or the person offering coffee to those helping to re-build the neighbor’s house.  Its a fabric whose strength is in the weave, the tenacity of threads interwoven.

During this winter, there are strident individuals and there are growing communities.  People are reaching out to each other in order to strengthen the fabric and make a harmony of voices. There are some who opened their homes to others who came from out of the area to participate in a march.  There are those who provided hand-knitted hats to anyone who needed one against the winter chill. People supplied transportation, food, support; people worked together towards a common good. Its winter but there is warmth in numbers.

Mosaic lesson

Yes, I enjoy traveling. One of many reasons why I have the traveling bookstore. Sometimes I travel with the bookstore and sometimes I leave it at home while I go off using other means of transportation.  Now I am in northern Italy traveling by bus and train with a friend who is a mosaic artist ( and thus experiencing a lot of mosaics. There were first century ones in Aquileia and today contemporary ones in Ravenna.  And of course we spent time in Spilembergo as well. Seeing this incredible range of mosaics and talking mosaics with people along the way, I learned mosaics can take all sorts of shapes.  Not only stone or glass, but paper and clay, even shells and hair. While I had been slightly hohum about mosaics at the beginning of this trip, now I want a large table and a variety of materials to experiment making my own.

The wonder that I appreciate today is the reminder we can push boundaries in many ways.  Not only art and music but in relationships, community, politics.  Surely it helps to know basic techniques, to have a sense of how to create things that endure, to have standards but even with this, there can be so much room for trying something new.  I like this concept of exploration not only geographical but with our minds as well.